Focus on How: Know your Competitive Advantage

We hear a lot about ‘competition’ as we navigate sales cycles. Competition is the thorn in the rose we often want to ignore. Unfortunately every potential opportunity has the threats.

At my previous role I could speak to every competitive advantage of our solution head to head with my clients not simply from memorizing a battlecard, but because I had the experience of expertise on the competition from my time working in the market. Many of my clients would give me an insiders view on their experience with a competitor – what they loved – what they hated.

Competitive selling is an important differentiator between the top reps and those scrapping by. Competitive selling goes beyond simply reading out a list of comparisons – to truly have a competitive advantage you need to dig deeper than ‘battle cards’. Granted those are a good foundation for arguing your case against a competitor but simply running down a list of facts typically doesn’t resonate with buyers. You need to go deeper.

We speak a lot about authentic selling and counselor sales here – where you are a trusted advisor helping empower the client to purchase a solution versus simply ‘selling a product.’ As a consultant, competitive sales means getting into the emotion and ‘why’ behind your clients interest in the competition. What are they looking for/found in another solution? How does your solution compare? How does it work with the competition (is it really a competitor or can you integrate and work alongside of that solution)

The purchasing process is a mix of rational thought and emotions.

There have been many times I have explained the value of why my solution was a better fit and I went head to toe on features and all that we offer, but I did that without really asking ‘why.’ Why did the customer see value in this other tool or process? Without understand the ‘why’ behind your competition you struggle to win the deal.

It is like playing defense on the offensive side of the basketball court. You are so focused on beating the competition that you lose sight of the customer’s ‘why’ and how the competition relates in the decision making process.

Objection handling early and often is key. You need to know what the client’s true objectives and objections are throughout the process.

Always assume there is competition. Just because a client doesn’t tell you about a competitor, 9 times out of 10 they are evaluating multiple options. Most companies require vendor auditing where the IT team will evaluate 2-5 similar technologies for due diligence.

Don’t be afraid to ask about the competition:

  • Tell me about the other technology options you are evaluating?
  • What do you like about that solution?
  • What gaps are you finding with the solution?
  • Where are we missing the mark?

A misconception in sales is that you never want a client to admit a ‘gap’ or a ‘problem’ with your solution, but that is foolish. Most solutions don’t solve everything for everyone – so understanding the gaps that your client sees in your solution early in the process ensures you can reestablish value and handle that objection properly (reset their impression).

Understanding what a client likes about a competitor helps you to ensure that you provide that same ‘like’ if you are able and understand how to tackle your weaknesses relevant to their needs and wants as they evaluate various technologies.

Don’t be afraid to ask about how seriously they are evaluating the competitor. You don’t need to be defensive here – just curious – ‘I really want to ensure you get the best solution for your needs. I work for x company but we really are your partner in the process. To fully understand your goals and decision making process – can you tell us about other technologies you are evaluating so we can make sure you get the answers and information you need to make an informed decision.

NEVER bash the competition. I cringe when I hear sales professionals bash their opponent. Yes, you can speak to weaknesses ‘their file sharing software lacks HIPAA compliance, which is a required capability of yours…’ Instead focus on your strengths and pain points.

The Status Quo:

The biggest competitor is the Status Quo. People long for change but also hate it. They worry about new processes and are risk averse about purchasing when they haven’t experienced the ROI yet. It’s like the camera I want for my vlog – I know it will help my business and have better video quality – but I also worry about getting ROI on the equipment and will it work? I’m used to using my phone – I probably can make do…

Humans are funny creatures – we rush into buying things (emotion) then regret it, but things we need we are emotionally afraid to buy because of fear of the unknown.

The Status Quo ties up fear and emotions and all the highs and lows of change into a big time competitor. If the status quo is the opponent – you really need to get into the client’s shoes and how the emotion of change is impacting their decision. In this situation they might see the value and be okay with the budget, but it is the very act of change that is the obstacle.

In summary:

Competitive selling – you get the advantage by truly empathizing and seeking to understand the customer ‘why’ in evaluating competitors; the true root of any potential objections; Is the competition a real threat or simply part of due diligence? What is the root cause of objections that would open the door to a competitor.

A simple exercise I do in my current role:

  • I write out how we solve the business problem (How we do it)
  • I think follow-up by answering – How we do it better
  • I make note of Strengths and Weaknesses and put myself in the buyers shoes. What would I been looking for in this situation?

As you grow in your role you will become an expert on your competition to the point that you really understand why the competition wouldn’t be a good fit for your client. IT is not about sales at that point but informing the client of the complete 360 view so they can make the best decision for their business

Competitive selling is not feature pitching and bashing the competition – it demands you bring value and expertise understanding the moving parts of their business landscape and industry and navigating the rational and emotional that drive your client’s decision making process.

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